This quarter’s persistent rumor has been of a final resolution of the Verizon/Vodafone situation just beyond the horizon. Yet thus far the rumors have been quite glib beyond that much. But according to the several UK newspaper articles, there may actually be a deal in the works now with an eye on a summer tie-up. Investors are taking it seriously enough to drive Vodafone’s stock 2.5% this morning.
Supposedly, Vodafone may be preparing to sell its 45% stake in Verizon Wireless for some $135B to Verizon proper. That would be a huge move, both in raw financial terms but also in terms of strategic shift. Vodafone would find itself with a vast cash hoard alongside its European, African, and Asian assets, and would clearly have to find something to do with the balance sheet riches. A $135B war chest would go a long way in driving favorable European consolidation, but perhaps the pressure to return a lot of it to shareholders in a special dividend or something would override such a thing.
Apparently the possibility of buying Vodafone outright is less likely now, as Verizon’s US shareholders seem to be sour on the idea of adding those global assets. I actually think they’re off base there, seems like Verizon would have substantial synergies globally in such a deal and non-US telecom valuations are pretty easy on the eye right now. It’s not as if mobile phones are going out of style or anything.
At this point it’s clear that the analyst community thinks some sort of deal will happen this year, and perhaps just the shadow of the rumor will be enough to kick off some European consolidation – both wireless and wireline.
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